Lots of our students tell us they do.
Which is wonderful, because it really motivates them to write!
It can be a great boost to a class to ask each student to think like a real, professional author. Teach them the questions authors ask themselves: How are you going to start the story and grab your reader from the first line? How do you push for unique ideas? (Nobody wants to write the same old thing that’s been seen a hundred times before!) What would make the ending really satisfying to a reader?
Asking students to think like authors is particularly good for Step 6: Ban the Boring.
Why? Because authors are not the nice, soft people you think they are.
They will cut and cull. They’ll kill dialogue and ditch scenes.
They’ll move a whole chapter, invent a new character, change anything to make the book better.
Authors know that their first finished story isn’t perfect. They rely on the skills of Step 6: Ban the Boring to make their work shine.
Authors know that they absolutely must edit their work.
That’s nice, but what about my students?
When students meet authors, the most common question they ask is ‘Where do you get your ideas?’
Students are thinking about the first phase of writing, which is a great place to start. But we can also direct them to ask about the end stages of writing – the chopping, cleaning, culling and editing that makes a mediocre story into a masterpiece.
Teach the three kinds of editing
We can teach students that editing does not simply mean checking spelling and grammar.
Real authorial editing involves heavy lifting.
First, show students the structural edit, in which you read your work and ask yourself: does this scene work here? Should I move it? Is my ending really memorable? Should I introduce this character here, or would it be more effective to meet them a little earlier in the story? Does my argument build to a crescendo? Which chunks of my writing can I move around to make the whole piece more effective?
Structural editing comes first and it is the hard-thinking editing stage where a writer needs to know they can move ANYTHING. A paragraph, a scene, a whole chapter might be good as they are – but absolutely great if placed somewhere else.
Then, expression editing. If structural editing is like checking you’ve built a house with all four walls and no holes in the roof, then expression editing is like painting it to make it look nice.
In expression editing, writers go through their work slowly. They examine each sentence – often it’s useful to read them out loud – and make improvements to how the words sound and flow (the expression). Do I need to say ‘very, very big’, can’t I write ‘gigantic’? Does this dialogue sound real? What words would make it more believable? How about I make the tense parts into short, sharp sentences? Is my closing as tight as it could be? Do I make my argument clear by the words I have chosen?
Expression editing is the polish that writers sometimes refer to as ‘crafting’ a text. It is careful and thoughtful and it ensures the text flows along.
Finally, the last form of editing is a line-by-line scrutiny for errors in grammar and spelling. There’s not much point line editing before the other two stages of editing, because structural and expression editing involves so many changes that can introduce errors. It is much more efficient to let the creative side of the brain shape the text (structure, expression edit) and the detailed mind to check accuracy (line edit) at the end.
Don’t Trust Us – Ask a Real Author!
The Seven Steps was developed by an author to teach writing to anyone at any age.
Watch these videos from award-winning authors Susanne Gervey and Hazel Edwards
With students exploring Step 6: Ban the Boring, focus on these videos on the page:
- Question 4 – What gets left out during the final editing stage?
- Question 5 – At what stage in the writing process do you worry about spelling and grammar?
- Step 6 – Susanne Gervay on Banning the Boring.
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